Pregnant women and children: FDA, EPA want you to eat more fish, but the right kinds

This month the U.S.  Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encouraged pregnant women, breast-feeding women and children to eat more fish, with the caveat that it be the right kind of fish.

The released a handy chart that identifies which fish are best choices, good choices and choices to avoid. It’s all about the mercury levels in the fish.

fishchartThe new recommendations:

  • Eat two to three servings a week of the best choice fish or one serving of the good choice fish.
  • Eat a variety of fish.
  • Children should eat one to two servings a week beginning at age 2 (though there’s no reason to avoid fish or shellfish before age 2).
  • If you eat fish you caught or fish that is caught by a friend or family member, look for fish advisories. If there’s no advisory, have only one serving of that that week, and no other fish.
  • And what’s a serving? 4 ounces for adults, 2 ounces for children.

What fish are on the best choices list? 

  • Anchovy
  • Atlantic croaker
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Black sea bass
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Clam
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Crawfish
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Hake
  • Scallop
  • Shad
  • Shrimp
  • Skate
  • Smelt
  • Sole
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • Trout, freshwater
  • Tuna, canned light (includes skipjack)
  • Whitefish
  • Whiting
  • Herring
  • Lobster, American and spiny
  • Mullet
  • Oyster
  • Pacific chub mackerel
  • Perch, freshwater and ocean
  • Pickerel
  • Plaice
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Sardine

What’s a good choice but not the best?

  • Bluefish
  • Buffalofish
  • Carp
  • Chilean sea bass/Patagonian toothfish
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi mahi/dolphin fish
  • Monkfish
  • Rockfish
  • Sablefish
  • Sheepshead
  • Snapper
  • Spanish mackerel
  • Striped bass (ocean)
  • Tilefish (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Tuna, albacore/white tuna, canned and fresh/frozen
  • Tuna, yellowfin
  • Weakfish/seatrout
  • White croaker/
  • Pacific croaker

What should you avoid? 

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Tuna, bigeye

Where the fish comes from matters as well as what variety of a species, too. The rule of thumb is those larger predator fish tend to have more mercury because all the mercury from the fish they have eaten has built up in their tissue.

Why is mercury such a worry? It can cause neurological problems. When a doctor suspects that something might be happening neurologically with a child or baby, they often will do a blood test to rule out high levels of mercury and for lead.

Dr. Albert Gros
Dr. Albert Gros

Dr. Albert Gros, the chief medical officer at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center who is also an obstetrician/gynecologist, warns that even with this list, pregnant women should still not eat sushi. “Eating raw fish can make you susceptible to parasites and bacterial infections,” he says. He’s seen that with raw oysters and Hepatitis A.

But they should eat cooked fish because fish are a great source of protein and Omega 3, which is important for brain development. “There was a concern about pregnant women not eating as much fish as they should or sometimes children as well,” he says.

The new recommendations help people know how to safely eat fish, and the good news for kids: the fish in fish sticks are on the best choices list. Eat up!



Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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